Sunday, November 30, 2008

Make the Credit Card Companies March to Your Tune

Does it ever seem like credit card companies seem to treat their customers like indentured slaves? The policies that these credit companies use to handle your accounts are at best unscrupulous and at worst, down right outrageous and robbery. If any other industry tried to cheat their customers out of money like the credit card companies successfully do every day of the year, they would be investigated and jailed with a vengeance. But our government doesn’t do that so the credit card companies literally have a license to steal.

The way these companies handle your accounts has a lot to do with why your credit card debt is so hard to get rid of. When you owe a few thousand dollars to a credit card company and they are constantly slapping you with fees, jack up your interest rates and adding charges to your account for “membership dues” and bogus things like this, it becomes clear that in addition to the debt, the debt carriers are the enemy, not your friend in trying to get your debt down.

You can put them on notice and make them march to your tune but you are going to have to “be the boss” to get that to happen. But if you get dozens of credit card offers and perhaps have a half dozen credit card accounts already open, you may have the flexibility to put them on notice that they credit card companies have a job of serving you, not you serving them.

To make these arrogant companies face the music, they have to know that they can be fired. To put them on notice, first make sure you know what they are up to. Get a year’s worth of statements and track the extra fees, the membership dues and each time they jacked up their interest rates on you.

Then armed with that information, call them and demand to talk to someone who can make changes to your account. If the clerk doesn’t want to play ball, start the process of closing the account. That will get their notice. You might have to actually close the account but don’t miss the chance to make comments when they come to the part of the process where they ask why you are closing the account.

This is where you get your licks in. You can leave as the reason something like this. “I am closing the account because you are imposing unreasonable fees and membership dues and I want the interest rate dropped to a certain rate and capped.” That will get some attention. You will either get to a manager right away or one will call you. Be prepared for a bunch of lame excuses and don’t argue. They can say they raised your interest rate because you were late on a payment so this is a penalty. Ok fine. Then a good answer is, “I have a policy of not paying you for work you do not do. So my policy says I drop the account.” As long as you stay on your strength, there is no answer they can give.

The secret weapon you know and that they don’t want you to know is that you are a premium customer. The credit card companies know there are a limited amount of people who can carry a debt and make the payments. And each time they lose a customer, that pool of victims, or customers, goes down. And don’t be fooled by any talk that they have no leverage to change the rules of the game. They can and they will. You can demand they rebate to you all charges imposed since last year. They can scream that you are being unreasonable all they want. You are within your rights to respond, “It’s unreasonable you impose fines and fees on my account without notice and for no additional value or work that you are doing. Its usury and I am within my rights to close this account and file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and with the US Attorney General.”

This is not just scare tactics. These are words credit card companies live in fear of hearing. So use the tools you have and put the credit card companies on notice that they are going to march to your tune or, to borrow a catch phrase from Donald Trump, “You’re fired”.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Inside Out Credit Card Management

When the economy or personal issues and problems result in a high credit card debt, we often find our debt spread over three or four or more cards. So you may have a Visa, several MasterCards, a Discover card and a Capital One card and maybe many more each carrying several thousands of dollars of debt. The result is an ugly parade of bills from each company each needing a minimum payment that pays the interest and takes just a small amount off of your debt.

If it seems that the debt mountain never seems to go down, that’s not an illusion. The situation is not designed to help you get that debt down. It’s a cruel mixed message the credit industry sends us because if you have high credit card debt, your credit rating goes down. But even if you have too much debt, the credit card companies just keep raising your credit ceiling and sending more and more credit card offers to lure you into more debt.

The instinct is to keep taking out more accounts and transferring money to those deceptive zero percent offers that expire in a matter of months and leave you with yet another bill to pay that only makes managing that debt even more impossible. If you do get a little money ahead, the instinct is also to pay more down on the debts that have the highest interest rates to try to slow the erosion of your finances due to high rates.

But there is another approach to handling this debt that goes completely opposite your instincts and gives more control to you to begin seeing headway against those debts. But to use this approach, you will have to think with your head, not your emotions and not panic but think about how to get as much principle paid down as possible. This inside out approach to paying down your credit cards is simple and gives you a roadmap to freedom from debt.

First of all, stop taking out more accounts. That only gives another credit card company access to your money. They can charge you membership fees and try to lure you with credit insurance. If you have three or more credit resources already, that’s plenty.

Second, use short term offers wisely. If one of your existing accounts offers you a zero percent deal for a few months, take it but transfer a small amount to that account. Then you can focus on paying off that transferred amount and see 100% of your payment go against principle which is the fastest way out of debt.

Third, pick a card and pay it off. It might be the card with the lowest balance which is one you might give the least to so you can respond to the higher level debts. But if you pay that card off, that is one less bill coming in each month and it gives you a great feeling to know you are slowly killing off the monster of credit card debt one card at time.

That brings us to the cornerstone of the inside out method. Instead of paying on the card with the highest interest rate, pay them the minimum payment and put your excess funds against the cards with the lowest rate. In this way you are getting the most bang for your buck with the small amount of extra funds you may have to pay on the debt. That debt will go down more quickly and then you can attack the bigger accounts and begin to whittle away at them too. And by using a smart approach to the credit card debt you have, you take control of the problem and put it on a program to go away. And that will be the greatest feeling of them all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Manage but Don’t Be Managed by Credit

The epidemic of credit card debt in the last five years would make you believe that credit cards are a bad thing. By themselves, credit cards are not bad. They not only can be a tremendous convenience, in many situations a credit card is absolutely essential. And building a good credit history and reputation is just one of the ways you go about establishing yourself as a viable financial entity in our society.

But like everything else in life, you can handle credit well or handle it poorly. It is when you start being pushed around and living in slavery to your credit card debt that you start to feel like a victim. So to regain control over your financial life, you have to manage your credit cards and the debt you owe there and don’t let it be the boss of you.

The number one rule of managing your credit card debt is to eliminate fees and any charges other than the interest rate itself. So you must make it a hard and fast rule never to be late on a payment. Being late is a disaster not just because the credit card company will tack on another $30-$50 fee to your debt for a late payment. Being late on a payment is also an alarm to the credit card companies that can set them off raising your rates, demanding excessively high minimum payment levels and passing along negative reports about your credit score.

To make sure you are never late, keep a good tracking system going every day so you know what credit card payments you have coming in and when they will come due. Then you can look at your income and begin to balance what you are making with what you need to come up with to at least make a minimum payment on each card. Now, many credit card management articles and advisors say never pay the minimum payment. This is bad advice. There is one situation where you not only should but must make at least the minimum payment and that is to keep from paying late. Far better to pay the minimum amount on time than to go late just to pay an extra few dollars on your balance.

Also keep an eye on the additional fees your credit card company or companies are charging you. If they are adding fees for credit protection or membership fees, its time to call them and either have those fees dropped or terminates the credit card. Don’t worry because you can terminate a credit card even if you still are carrying a debt balance on that card. They will hold the account open until you pay it back but close it to any further charges.

Taking your creditors by the scruff of the neck and making them play ball is the way you become the boss of your credit rather than it being the boss of you. Next to additional fees and charges, getting control over your interest rate is the next area of focus so you can be paying more on your debt level and less in interest. You can also call the credit card company and negotiate a better interest rate. Don’t let them push you around. The credit card business is tough and competitive and they do not want to lose you as a customer. So don’t be afraid to let them know you will close that account if you cannot get a rate you can live with.

By being the boss of your credit, you not only can make a plan to get out of debt, you will get the good feeling that you are handling a tough situation rather than being handled by it. And that sense of control is worth a lot, especially when you are starting to put some controls on something as easy to lose control of like your credit card debt levels.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Is Zero Percent For Real?

The desire to climb out of credit card debt is universal for anyone who is fighting this big problem. And it isn’t an isolated problem. More and more people are having big problems with credit debt especially in these times when you just about have to use credit every day.

There is something a little strange then about credit card companies coming in with offers to help you climb out of credit card debt when its they that are the problem in the first place. It’s almost like a drug pusher pushing a new drug that can get you off drugs but the drug he is pushing is just as addictive as the last one. But when you get offers for new credit cards each month, they often are pushing plans to help you get out of debt by going into debt to them.

Probably the offer that comes in that is most difficult to over look are the offers to let you do a balance transfer of some of your debt and pay no interest on it. These are often called zero percent offers and they have skilled marketing people write the copy for these offers so you are prone to believe that you really are going to be able to have a loan paying no interest so you can just pay off the principle and that’s that.

So are these zero percent credit card balance transfer offers for real? Well they are in the sense that they might transfer some of the funds and yes, the interest rate you will see on the first statement will be zero percent. But, like all things, there are catches and things to look out for. You have to remember that the credit card companies are entirely in the business of collecting interest. They don’t do anything else. They offer no value to society, build no roads or hospitals, sell no food or medicine, make no TV shows to make you laugh. They sit there, house your debt, collect interest and try to talk you into running up more debt.

So when you get a zero percent offer, they plan on recovering the lost money from the time they support your debt and you pay no interest. One way they do that is with a transfer fee. They will almost always charge you a 3-5% balance transfer fee with a minimum and sometimes a maximum value. Read the fine print carefully to make sure you understand how much this is going to be and that you agree to it. But be aware that the transfer fee is nothing more than disguised interest. So calculate that against the interest you would have paid leaving the debt where it is sitting now before you cash in on a zero percent balance transfer.

Also you will rarely see a zero percent balance transfer that is not for a very limited time frame, usually no more than three to six months. So with the transfer fee factored in, you have to wonder if the effort of moving the money was worth it. And at the end of the introductory period, they are going to raise your interest rate to something that they, the credit card company want it to be. Be absolutely sure you know what that interest rate is going to be and that they live up to that stated level of interest. If you enjoy that zero percent transfer for three months and then face years at 21% interest, you did not win in that transaction, the credit card company won.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Handing the Debt Off

The credit card business is one of the most competitive industries there is. You can tell that because you no doubt get dozens of invitations for new credit cards every week. That is because the only way a credit card company can continue to grow new business is to steal the business away from another credit card company. It isn’t really a business where there are a lot of new customers coming into the market. The types of accounts the credit card companies want are people who are carrying a lot of debt, who continue to pay on the debt but never pay it off and who have no history of defaulting on their loans. If that describes you, then you are on the A list for a potential customer for a credit card company.

If you have a lot of credit card debt, it really isn’t that flattering that other credit card companies want your business. Even more infuriating is when a credit card company who already has you in debt sends you offers for still more credit cards. But there may be a glimmer of light in this tough situation. You might be able to leverage you’re “A list” position with the credit world to find a way to manage your credit card debt more successfully.

Typically if you have three or four or more credit accounts, the credit ceiling on those accounts probably have gotten pretty high. That is because, as we just reviewed, if you carry debt but pay on it, that sets a cycle in motion for the credit card companies to offer you as much debt as they think you might use so you can owe them even more money. Again, while this seems cruel and heartless, that is how these folks make their living so they have to find some way of attracting the debt of the A list customers.

But another method they also use is to offer you an attractive rate of interest to either start a new account or transfer debt from an account you have to your existing account. A common “come on” is to offer you zero percent financing which seems wonderful because in theory you could transfer all of most of your debt to the generous company and not pay any interest which would greatly speed your pay off.

Transferring balances has its good side and its negative side and you need to be smart about both. Read every word of the offer, even the small print on the back of the page because you must understand any hidden fees you might face if you accept their generosity. Almost always the zero percent or low percentage rate is for a very limited time of perhaps three or four months. In credit card land, this is a heartbeat. Then once they have your account balance of your debt built up, they can jack your rates up and you are right back where you started.

So be smart about using these kinds of offers. A great tactics is simply to transfer a fairly small amount of your debt to the zero percent offer. Transfer $1000 and then pay it off over the three to four mouth period. You win because you paid no interest and they lose because they can’t sting you with a high interest rate at the end. Also be aware of any transfer fees or membership fees if you are taking out a new card. These fees can amount to additional interest and negate much of the benefit. But if you are smart and use these offers shrewdly, they can be terrific ways for you to drive down your credit card debt surfing “come ons” from the credit cards companies in a clever fashion.

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